Mariam Babanginda Centre: Worthy Legacy For Future Generations –Ambassador Leo Okogwu

A former Ambassador of Nigeria to Romania and Bulgaria,
Ambassador Leo Okogwu, who is also a scholar
of repute, Legal luminary and a man of noble parentage,
in an interview with the Deputy Editor Weekend Pointer, Mr. Felix Ogedegbe and the Assistant Production Manager of The POINTER, Miss Joy Fasindor, speaks on the essence of the Delta State government constructing an edifice of state of the art, in honour and recognition of late Mariam Ndidi Ibrahim Babaginda’s contribution to the creation of the oil-rich state. The edifice is known as Mariam Babaginda Women Centre. In words of the Asaba born Ambassador;’’ I hail the foresightedness of the Dr. Uduaghan-led administration, and that of Senator (Dr) Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa, for allocating, protecting and restoring the land allocated to this amazon of our fatherland’’.
Ambassador Okogwu, disclosed this recently at his country home in Asaba, during an interactive session. See excerpts and other issues of interest.
Can we know who you formally?
I am Ambassador Leo Okogwu.
Where is this land in question located.
It is located along Mariam Babangida Road, that is former
State Secretariat road.,Asaba.
Please tell us what happened to this land
During IBB’s visit to Asaba before the 2011 election, then he was trying to come out as a Presidential candidate,
he paid a visit to his in-laws in respect of his wife’s death and through the occasion to get a title, that occasion was also used by the Uduaghan –led government to give a place to the Mariam Babangida Centre.
The former Military President laid, General Ibrahim Babaginda,
retired, laid a plank, that is the foundation so to speak.
At a time the centre was used as a driving school. That large expanse of land which the government proposed for Mariam Babangida Centre was later being carved out for private individuals. Some prominent Deltans encroached the land there, built block of flat there, they also built shopping mall which is not completed, also a big Hotel is hanging there. I don’t know who owns it. They were encroaching
on that land.
When they were doing that I came to the site and I called Uche Okpuno, telling him about the encroachment, he told me he was aware of it.
I complained, they told me what are the women doing about it. That it was the role of Delta Women to rise and protest. But I didn’t see any woman protest. I left them and I decided that the will of God be done on the sight
They started the building. Uduaghan was there, at a particular stage they abandoned it, grass started growing and I think it became a den for Indian hem smokers and whatever. I came again and thought about that place being
abandoned.
Mariam Babangida did a lot for women, gave them a sense of belonging, made first lady office that was not there in constitution, gave you 1/3 of appointment and created in states the Women Affairs ministry. I imagined why would Mariam Babangida be forgortten. She did better
life programme for rural women. It was a risky thing at the North then. There was a time she was travelling to Sokoto the car over turned, but she said she was bent on bringing out the women from where they were hiding.
Did you believe they were hiding the women
They did, there was this women that came to Abuja and they were housed in the hotel. They exhibited rural character
that made Mariam said that truly they must be empowered
through the better life for rural women.
When they got to know that this is how their male counterparts
were treated they exclaimed ruba. The women after their experience in Abuja, they were not the same.
This was the woman that made the women to be doubly
aware of their rights.The women were further enlightened
to know that they have the right to have offices and be in positions. And today this woman is being forgotten,
on that note I called some people and said let us have annually a lecture in memory of this woman, and we said we are going to call it Mariam Babangida Memorial Annual Lecture.
I sat with her husband IBB and asked if him and his children have forgotten about his wife. There was one reception they had during the time of Jonathan, Mrs. Patience
Jonathan was talking about women and she did not mention any thing about Mariam Babangid, it was only one Mrs. Alakija who perhaps has one or two blocks of petroleum
somewhere in the ocean that made mentioned of Mariam. It was then i told IBB let us have annual memorial lecture on Mariam.
The husband IBB bought the idea, I showed him pictures
of the centre, for him to view the state of the centre. I asked whether he was going to stay aloof and watch the centre go into oblivion. IBB asked me to go and do something
and to go and try something tangible and talk to the Delta State Government. When I came back I wrote to Governor Uduaghan and also called him.Ialso wrote to this present Governor though I didn’t get quick response from him when I wrote to inform him about the centre
but to the glory of God he finally responded by bringing
the peculiar contractors back on site to continue building and refurbishing.
The continuation of the building, was it for the encroachers or on the centre.
A: No! but on Mariam Babangida Centre. They abandoned the site but they came back to continue building the centre. While they were doing that some miscreants came and started
building walls again. But the Delta stateWomen Ministry Affairs came down and broke the walls down.
The Commissioner for Women Affair,Rev (Mrs)Omatshola Williams was lamenting that something should be put up there to avoid miscreant from encroaching
again. I reported that they had fenced the centre and is very secured now and they have told me it will be ready by August latest.
Who is sponsoring the Building?
The government, I think Hon.Kingsley Emu, the Commissioner of Economic
Planning is involved. My concern now is that let this place be ready so that we will have the first event of this programme, with effect
from 1st of November. I asked question if government
were ready and what role they are going to play, the answer I got from the Commissioner of Women Affairs is that let us secure the place first. Now that the place is secured what is going
to happen.
Government may or not have money what do we do., we may go to sponsors and what will be the condition
for this sponsors, that is where we are holding on and praying that something will happen, maybe we have to go back to the husband to ensure the success of the event.
What is left now is sufficient to build an hostel there so that when the women are having events there,oing they can be charged minimally. That place has five halls. One can contain 2000 thousand people and one 450 people.It is a state of the art edifice.